JetBlue Bids to Recover from Snow Cancellations

The airline JetBlue faces mounting criticism for mishandling a snowstorm last week in the Northeast. The company is announcing its own customers' bill of rights in the wake of the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Daryl Jenkins, an independent airline consultant, discusses the carrier's stumble with Renee Montagne.

Jet Blue is a small airline, it cancels 1,000 flights, can it recover?

Of course it can. This was a very bad week for them, brought upon themselves by a lot of their own mistakes, to be sure. But, a year from now, they will put this behind them and will continue their growth.

Could JetBlue have foreseen these problems?

Yes. This was kind of a disaster waiting to happen for them. They have this policy of never canceling flights, or trying to as little as possible. And this one really caught up with them.

Can you explain this for people who have not followed the story?

What happened was, when the weather report came in they thought they were going to have a day where it kind of was part rain and part ice and sleet and snow. And they could, in between these banks of rain and snow, take planes off.

So, the whole time during this storm, they're landing planes at the beginning, and at the same time they're putting planes out on the runway. And they were out on the runway and it didn't rain. It just iced all-day long.

So these planes had to go to be de-iced. And then they knew that they weren't going to be able to take them off. And they couldn't take them back to the gates because they'd been landing all these other planes. All the gates were full.

And they had communications problems?

They had all sorts of communications problems with their travelers. The travelers weren't able to get through [to] the reservation line. So this was a very serious policy mistake on JetBlue's part because they really didn't have the infrastructure in to handle a very large ... irregular operations day.

JetBlue says that it was trying to get its passengers to their destinations. Some passengers are charging the airline with just trying to make money. What would convince someone to book a flight now with JetBlue?

JetBlue is still probably the greatest domestic airline, next to Southwest. They really do go to extraordinary measures to be good to their customers. This is certainly a black eye on them. But it's a black eye from which they'll recover.

What would you, as an analyst, be watching for as JetBlue tries to rebuild its reputation?

They're going to, a little later today, be announcing a new passenger's bill of rights, which applies to their passengers only. This is really kind of a unique step.

I think the problem that we all had with JetBlue in this really big meltdown they had in the last week was that we just expect so darn much from these guys. And we've come to expect a lot. So this was very hard on them.

And so they're going to have to go out, they're going to have to do things to the people who they terribly inconvenienced.

And, at the same time, I think what they'll do is they'll probably run some sales, and some other things, and when fares get low enough people have a tendency to forget.

JetBlue Makes New Pledge on Passenger Rights

NEW YORK (AP) — JetBlue Airways rolled out a customer bill of rights Tuesday that promises vouchers to fliers who experience delays in a move it hopes will win back passengers after an operational meltdown damaged its brand and stock price.

JetBlue customers will be compensated based on the length of the delays. The vouchers range from $25 to the full amount of the ticket. The delays include airplanes unable to taxi to the gate within 30 minutes and flight departures held up for a minimum of three hours, according to a program copy provided to The Associated Press.

If JetBlue cancels a flight within 12 hours of its departure, customers can ask for a full refund or a voucher. JetBlue said passengers would also receive vouchers if flight delays are the airline's fault.

JetBlue also vowed to deplane passengers if an aircraft is delayed on the ground for five hours.

The airline said it expected to be fully operational Tuesday after a sequence of events led to the canceling of hundreds of flights and tarnished the reputation of JetBlue, known for its low fares and exceptional customer service.

Snow and extreme temperatures last week froze equipment and grounded the company's planes at JetBlue's terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, stranding passengers inside the aircraft for up to 10 1/2 hours.

JetBlue said it waited too long to call for help in getting the passengers off the planes because it hoped the weather would let up and the flights would be able to proceed.

The bad-weather delays and cancellations led to customer questions and complaints that overwhelmed the company's reservations system, and many of its pilots and flight crews wound up stuck in places other than where they were needed.

When the bad weather struck Feb. 14, JetBlue didn't have a system in place for so many stranded flight crews to call in and be rerouted to their next assignments, something it was working to rectify within a few weeks.

Since then, David G. Neeleman, JetBlue's founder and chief executive, has been making the media rounds, trying to convince people — investors and customers — that the airline will recover.

The service breakdown "was absolutely painful to watch," he said Monday.

JetBlue's shares fell more than 6 percent in morning trading Tuesday.

One travel expert suggested the airline had brought the crisis on itself by trying too hard to accommodate its passengers.

"Most airlines don't try to operate when there is an ice storm problem — they've learned that it's better to cancel all flights at the outset and then try to get back to normal operations as quickly as possible," David Stempler, president of the Washington-based, member-supported Air Travelers Association, told The Associated Press on Monday.

"JetBlue tried to do their best — tried to keep the system rolling," he said. "Their heart was in the right place, but their head was not."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: